Thursday 24 November 2016

BLOG TOUR: My Sister's Bones - Q&A with Nuala Ellwood

This is one blog tour that I didn't want to miss.  I think My Sister's Bones will be one of the top books of 2017; it was absolutely impossible to put down and kept me riveted from start to finish.  You can read my review here but for the blog tour I was so lucky to be given the opportunity to put some questions to the super-talented Nuala Ellwood about her wonderful debut, My Sister's Bones.

Q: My Sister's Bones is certainly one of the best debut novels I have read and it is sure to be a big hit in 2017. For anyone who hasn't read it yet, can you tell us a little bit about it?

A: Thanks so much for those kind words. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed My Sister’s Bones. The novel tells the story of Kate Rafter, a troubled war reporter, who returns from a harrowing experience in Syria to her hometown on the Kent coast after the death of her mother. On her first night back in the house she hears a scream. At first she dismisses it as a nightmare, a manifestation of the PTSD she has developed since the events in Syria. But then she hears it again and this time she convinces herself that it is real. Has Kate uncovered a dark secret hidden in the house and is she strong enough to uncover the truth?

Q: What inspired you to write My Sister's Bones?

A: My father was a journalist and his reports on the aftermath of the civil war in Beirut really struck a chord with me when I was a child. I was brought up around reporters and have always been fascinated by female war correspondents such as Marie Colvin, Janine Di Giovanni and Martha Gellhorn, not least for the way they made themselves heard in such a male-dominated world and always sought the human story within the chaos and horrors of war. When I set out to write My Sister’s Bones I wanted to pay homage to these women. I also wanted to explore the impact of war on the psyche of the reporter. In the course of my research for the novel I looked into the link between PTSD and war reporting and found that the subject had been woefully overlooked. This inspired me to shape the character of Kate Rafter and to show, through her experience in Syria, the traumas faced by war reporters in their work and how this affects their mental state.

Q: Kate is a war reporter in Syria. How did the events in Syria affect your writing?

A: The war in Syria has had a huge effect on the writing of this novel. As a mother I have been extremely moved by the suffering of children trapped in Aleppo and the desperation of their families as they try to flee on flimsy boats towards hostility and uncertainty. As I watched these horrific scenes unfold on my television screen all I could think was that this could happen to any one of us at any time. This inspired me to create the character of Nidal, the boy Kate meets in Aleppo. Through him I wanted to tell the story of a little boy who just wanted to play football, to go to school, to be safe. Simple things that every child deserves.

Q: Have you always wanted to write a book and how long did it take for My Sister's Bones to go from idea to publication?

A: Yes, I’ve always wanted to write books. When I was a little girl I spent all my spare time writing plays and stories and ploughing my way through the books in my dad’s study. My parents introduced me to literature and the power of the written word at an early age. Dad was a journalist and I grew up listening to the sound of the typewriter bashing out scripts to deadline. To me writing was as normal and necessary as breathing. At first my writing came out song shaped – I spent my teens putting bands together and writing songs and my early twenties working as a session singer – but then after completing an MA in Creative Writing I took the plunge and started to write a novel. My Sister’s Bones required quite a lot of research so it took around two years from coming up with the initial idea to securing my publishing deal with Penguin.

Q: I've always admired authors and their ability to portray their ideas in such a way that captivates the reader. Do you have any writing tips for budding authors?

A: Every writer is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ advice to give to aspiring novelists. I have always been inspired by landscapes and for me visiting Herne Bay, the place where My Sister’s Bones is set, really helped bring the story to life. I spent a week there and during that time I not only got to absorb the place, the people, the atmosphere, the key locations, but I also had uninterrupted time to write. I was lucky enough to secure funding from Arts Council England for the research phase of the novel and this proved invaluable as I could really immerse myself in both the subject matter and the location of the novel. So my advice would be to create as much space as you can for your writing, explore possible funding routes (the Arts Council England website is a great starting point), book yourself onto a writing retreat or a Creative Writing course. If this isn’t possible then be selfish with your time and set aside a portion of the day – first thing in the morning or in the evening after work –that is dedicated wholly to writing. I wrote a lot of the first draft of My Sister’s Bones in snatched moments in between work and looking after my little boy. It can be exhausting but it’s worth every second when you hold your finished novel in your hands.

Q: What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

A: My writing day starts around 9:30 a.m. when I return from dropping my little boy off at school. We live by the river and the walk to school follows the river path where, on any given day, we can see swans, herons, geese and clusters of pretty canal boats. The lack of road traffic and pollution really clears the head and prepares you for the day. When I get back I’ll make a cup of coffee and take it up to my desk that overlooks the river. The activity of the riverbank outside my window seems to dictate my day as much as the clock. As soon as I see the first of the pleasure boats sail past on its way to pick up tourists from the city centre I know it’s time to get writing. I’ll write until 1pm then stop for lunch, which is usually whatever I can find in the fridge. If I want some fresh air and to escape from the house I sometimes pop out to the café round the corner. Then it’s back to the desk to edit whatever I’ve written in the morning. If I’m doing the school pick up then I’ll stop at three. If not then I’ll carry on until about five. I very rarely work in the evenings unless I’m on a deadline or teaching a Creative Writing class at the university. I use the evenings to catch up with my family around the dinner table and then I’ll curl up to bed with a book.

Q: When you aren't writing, what do you enjoy doing?

A: I love music and singing. I used to be a session singer and still like to unwind by sitting at the piano and playing for a few hours. I also love going for long walks in the countryside. I live in York and am lucky to have some of the most spectacular hill country right on my doorstep. I grew up in the countryside and always feel better after getting my hiking fix.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started writing?

A: I live with my husband Nick, an illustrator, my nine-year-old son Luke and our eccentric but lovable cat Toby in a house by the river in York. I have always loved writing but spent my teens and twenties writing songs instead of novels. The change came when I decided to take an MA in Creative Writing after we moved from London to York. Then two years ago I secured Arts Council England funding to research a novel based on a war reporter. That novel became My Sister’s Bones. When it was signed up by Penguin last year in a two-book deal it was a dream come true.

Q: I love finishing a book and feeling the need to share it with the world and I will definitely be recommending My Sister's Bones to everyone I know. Do you have any favourite books or book recommendations?

A: Thank you so much. You’re right. A lot of the books I have enjoyed recently have come through word of mouth recommendations. I would definitely recommend Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, a beautifully written meditation on family, love and loss. I also loved The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle. It’s a gripping thriller with a truly shocking twist. If you like Patricia Highsmith and John Le Carre then you’ll love this. I would also highly recommend Rosamund Lupton’s The Quality of Silence, a wonderful literary thriller set in the Alaskan Tundra where a woman and her young deaf daughter appropriate a monster truck and set out to find her missing husband in the depths of the Arctic winter.

Q: Congratulations on signing a two book deal with Penguin Viking, I certainly can't wait to read your next novel. Can you tell us what you're currently working on and when we might be able to read it?

A: Thank you. It was an absolute dream to sign with Penguin. I’m just working on my next novel at the moment. It has the working title of Little Shadow and is set between West Yorkshire and Switzerland. I can’t say too much about it yet, only that it explores the subject of assisted suicide and has an even more shocking twist than My Sister’s Bones!

Thank you so much to Nuala Ellwood for not only taking the time to answer my questions but for her honest and considered answers.  If you haven't read My Sister's Bones yet, I strongly urge you to do so although it may keep you up all night as you can't put the book down once you start it!

Nuala Ellwood moved to London in her twenties to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, but ended up writing novels instead. She comes from a family of journalists, and they inspired her to get Arts Council funding to research and write a novel dealing with psychological trauma in the industry. My Sister's Bones is her debut thriller.

Follow the tour:

Sunday 20 November 2016

A Life Without You - Katie Marsh

Can you ever outrun the past?
It's Zoe's wedding day. She's about to marry Jamie, the love of her life. Then a phone call comes out of the blue, with the news that her mum Gina has been arrested. Zoe must make an impossible decision: should she leave her own wedding to help?
Zoe hasn't seen Gina for years, blaming her for the secret that she's been running from ever since she was sixteen. Now, Gina is back in her life, but she's very different to the mum Zoe remembers. Slowly but surely, Gina is losing her memory.
As she struggles to cope with Gina's illness, can Zoe face up to the terrible events of years ago and find her way back to the people she loves?
A Life Without You is a stirring and poignant novel about the power of the past - and the possibilities of the future.

What did I think?

As soon as I saw there was a new book out by Katie Marsh, I just knew I had to have it so I snapped one up from Amazon for my kindle.  I read and absolutely adored Katie's first book, My Everything, and didn't think it could be bettered - but I was wrong!  A Life Without You is impeccably written, it is completely flawless and I am sure it will be listed in many readers' top books of 2016 - it's definitely in mine!  Katie Marsh really knows how people tick and understands the complexity of the heart which make her novels stand head and shoulders above the rest.

What an unusual start to a book - it certainly grabbed my attention.  Zoe is embarking on the happiest day of her life as she prepares to marry Jamie.  Then she gets a phone call from her mum's friend asking her to come and help as her mum is in trouble with the police. Wearing her wedding dress, Zoe takes a trip to the police station instead of down the aisle.  Hold on a second you say, why wasn't her mum sitting in the church with the other members of Zoe's family?  Zoe hasn't spoken to her mum in years - what could have happened that was so bad for a mother to not even be invited to her daughter's wedding?  So begins the story of Gina and her daughter, golden girl Zoe, told through heartbreaking letters that Gina has written to Zoe on each birthday.

These emotional and candid letters are placed at the end of each present day chapter, chapters filled to the brim with emotion as we see the effects of Gina's memory loss on herself and her family.  At a time when Gina really needs the support of her family, Zoe steps up to the mark by burying old grudges and sweeping aside feelings about her abandoned wedding to concentrate on looking after her mum.  With so much on her mind, it naturally starts to affect her work and she realises that she can't do it all on her own.  Time for hurt and resentment to be brushed aside and for people to show that they really care about Zoe.

Losing your memory must be such a devastating event and so difficult for friends and family to deal with.  It really hit home for me, as a book lover, when it was mentioned that Gina had a pile of books by her bed, but there was no point reading them as she would forget what she had read when she put the book down each night.  It must be so difficult to actually admit that you can no longer look after your loved one and have to look at other options available.  As Zoe struggled with feelings of betrayal and guilt, it was completely understandable and virtually palpable, but clear that she had to put those feelings to one side and do what was best for Gina.  

A Life Without You is a stunning and compassionate story of family, forgiveness and unconditional love.  It is a stark reminder that we shouldn't dwell on negative events in the past but concentrate on what is left of the future.  Katie Marsh has such emotive writing, evoking both laughter and tears, ensuring that A Life Without You is a book that will remain forever in my heart.  No words will ever do this book justice - you simply must read it for yourself.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Life Purpose: How To Find Your Reason For Living - Claire H Perkins

This little book is a positive affirmation of how to rise like the phoenix from your past and create a positive future for yourself. This book explains how to discover your true life purpose using positive psychology and alternative therapeutic ideas. This is a must read for anyone whether you are looking for or have already found your true purpose in life.

What did I think?

Now and again I have a little attraction to self-help books and, being a book magnet too, there isn't much I can do about it.  I've found recently that the shorter the book, the more powerful its message and this is certainly the case with Life Purpose.  What an enlightening little book this was.  Even though it is only 36 pages in length, it made me think, question and believe certain things.  

I have taken away so many things from this little book and I truly believe that my life was being lived in negative before reading Life Purpose.  I do believe that we are all souls in flesh suits so why not consider ourselves to be spiritual beings having a human experience rather than vice versa?  I considered and recognised the emotional vampires in my life, sucking out what small grains of positivity I have and I am determined to build up my courage muscles to become the owner of my life.

Life is indeed a journey and it's not the destination that counts but the journey to get there that's important.  Sometimes we forget this and it's great to be reminded of this now and again.  The experience of reading Life Purpose was over in such a small amount of time, but its powerful message will last a lot longer.  It's definitely a book I will return to again and again in the future when I need a little workout for my soul and my courage muscles.

A great little pick-me-up that left me with a genuine smile on my face and I could almost feel the weight being lifted off my soul as I reacquainted myself with my inner being.  Everyone should own a copy of this book and, in my opinion, the world would be a better place because of it.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Saturday 19 November 2016

Tattletale - Sarah J. Naughton

One day changes Jody's life forever.

She has shut herself down, haunted by her memories and unable to trust anyone. But then she meets Abe, the perfect stranger next door and suddenly life seems full of possibility and hope.

One day changes Mags's life forever.

After years of estrangement from her family, Mags receives a shocking phone call. Her brother Abe is in hospital and no-one knows what happened to him. She meets his fiancé Jody, and gradually pieces together the ruins of the life she left behind. But the pieces don't quite seem to fit...

What did I think?

Tattletale starts with a  teasing two-part introduction titled 'Before' and 'After' where there's a lot of screaming going on, so I knew that this was going to be a pacey read.  Indeed it was, as I rocketed through the pages filled with several amazing eyebrow raising and jaw-dropping moments.

Abe is in a coma after falling over the banister in his apartment block and the prognosis looks bleak.  Did he jump or was he pushed? This is what his estranged sister, Mags, wants to find out as she returns from America where she now lives.  Mags meets Abe's heartbroken girlfriend, Jody, who found him when he fell but Jody can't help Mags to piece together the events of that night.  Is that can't or won't?  Jody appears to be hiding something and Mags starts to get some anonymous notes so she starts to think that everything is not what it seems.  Mags does a bit of digging and speaks to Abe's neighbour, Mira.  Mira seems to only understand English when it suits her, so clams up when Mags asks too many questions.  So now we want to know Mira is hiding and why we don't see much of her mysterious husband.  Even though my brain went into overdrive, I could never have imagined the direction this book would take.

Tattletale is very dark and disturbing at times, with some very uncomfortable scenes.  It twists and turns down such dark alleyways that I needed a torch to find my way back to safety.  The characters each have so many facets to them that you are never sure what they are thinking or what they will do next.  Although it is quite disturbing, I loved the direction the book went in as it was so very unexpected. Such a clever, absorbing story and definitely one I'd recommend but be prepared for some uncomfortable reading.  As uncomfortable as it is at times, it is impossible to tear your eyes away from the page - I was completely riveted.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

BLOG TOUR: His Kidnapper's Shoes - Maggie James

Genre: Psychological suspense
Release Date: 15 November 2016 (republication)
Publisher: Lake Union

Daniel is my son. He has always been mine. And he always will be.

On some level deep inside, Laura Bateman knows something is wrong. That her relationship with her son is not what it should be. That it is based on lies.

But bad things have happened to Laura. Things that change a person. Forever.

For 26-year-old Daniel, the discovery that his mother is not whom he thought comes close to destroying him. As his world turns upside-down, he searches for sanity in the madness that has become his life. But he is left with nothing but questions. Why did Laura do something so terrible? Can he move past the demons of his childhood?

And the biggest question of all: can he ever forgive Laura?

What did I think?

There are a lot of books out there in the psychological genre but none have ever got inside my head more than His Kidnapper's Shoes. I still feel as if Laura is in my head, even after I finished the book.  Laura got into my head and under my skin as I pieced together the jigsaw of her life in this page turning novel.

We're introduced to Laura who has been arrested for abducting her 'son', Daniel, and refuses to utter a word in her defence.  All we can 'hear' are her deepest and darkest thoughts about how she ended up where she is, and what an emotional story that is.  Laura's son, Daniel, has always been tormented by the hazy memories of a woman beside his bed and a dark haired girl who played with him, neither of these women being the woman he knows as his mother.  Daniel is a tormented soul in the main anyway.  He sleeps with anyone he takes a fancy to but never gets too close, until he meets Katie.  He is encouraged by Katie to do a DNA test, the results of which cause jaw-dropping repercussions that nobody could ever have imagined.

The story has two distinct voices in Laura and Daniel, both of which started towards the dislike end of my love/hate scale but as the story unfolded I could feel the balance shifting - with reasons for actions comes compassion and understanding.  You always think of kidnappers as murderers or perverts, but what about the person who convinces themselves that they are doing it for love.  Laura didn't think that she was doing anything wrong; after a time, she convinced herself that Daniel was her son.  The only thing that was missing was the invisible bond that a mother has for her child.  Daniel never really felt that close to his mother and he absolutely hates his step-father and my heart was shattering as I wondered what kind of life he would have had if he'd never been taken.

His Kidnapper's Shoes is a psychological novel with a capital 'P'.  I felt as if Laura was telling her story only to me - I could hear her in my head as if I was listening to an audiobook.  It's a powerful novel of how we often judge things on face value, but once you walk a few miles in his kidnapper's shoes you see everything in a completely different light.  A superb novel that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon


Maggie James is a British author who lives in Bristol. She writes psychological suspense novels.

Before turning her hand to writing, Maggie worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practising as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on her list of interests, along with travel. Accountancy does not, but then it never did. The urge to pack a bag and go off travelling is always lurking in the background! When not writing, going to the gym, practising yoga or travelling, Maggie can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet; animals are a lifelong love!

Monday 14 November 2016

Forgiveness: Effortless Inspiration for a Happier Life - Dani DiPirro

Packed with insightful quotes, thought-provoking reflections and empowering affirmations designed to make you think about forgiveness in new ways, this uplifting little book provides bite-sized inspiration for you to feel lighter, freer and more at peace in everyday life.

What did I think?

What a super little book, it's certainly small but mighty.  I've bought the odd self-help book in the past and got bored after a few pages, leaving them barely thumbed through.  I do, however, still have a bit of an addiction to this kind of book so I was really pleased to win a copy in a Goodreads Giveaway.  Forgiveness only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to read from cover to cover, depending on how much thought you give each quote or idea.  In just a few pages of Forgiveness, I was eagerly reading to see what pearl of wisdom or inspirational quote would be imparted next.  I was so taken with some of the quotes that I shared them immediately by reading them out to my family.

The book itself has beautiful purple pages throughout, which is not only my favourite colour but a colour I find very peaceful and spiritual.   Each little section starts with an inspirational quote, including many from literary favourites such as Anne Frank, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and Oscar Wilde.  The quote is followed by a little passage about forgiveness with some key words such as 'compassion', 'patience' and 'happiness' and then leaves us with a thought to ponder to help us achieve these feelings.

Forgiveness certainly made me think about life and how we sometimes make it difficult for ourselves.  We often love to wallow in misery and negativity, forgetting how much better we feel when we're happy, kind and loving.  This is definitely a book I will dip in and out of in the future, but more likely I will read the whole book over and over again.  Forgiveness is full of enlightenment and wisdom, I feel like a better person already after just reading it once.  I am so looking forward to how much better I will feel when I put it into practice.

Inspirational and thought-provoking, Forgiveness is a little gem of a book and the best self-help book I have ever read.  It may be small but it packs a mighty punch.

I'll leave you with the fabulous Oscar Wilde quote that is included in the book:

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Saturday 12 November 2016

The Mountain in My Shoe - Louise Beech

A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself.

On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she's leaving, he doesn't come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she's befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor's foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband's secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.

Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family ... and just how far we're willing to go for the people we love.

What did I think?

Oh my word!  What an absolutely stunning piece of fiction, which sadly could be true to life for many children in foster care.  I saw a lot of excitement on Twitter about Louise Beech's second book, The Mountain in My Shoe, and I have to say that my fellow book lovers have never been wrong yet.  So I checked it out of the library to see what all the fuss was about. This is without doubt one of those books that suck you in from the start and you live and breathe every step of the journey with the characters.  You feel their hopes and their fears and I cried my very own tears but still couldn't stop reading even as the words blurred and became (almost) unreadable.

Bernadette seems like quite a meek woman but she has finally built up the courage to leave her husband, Richard.  Typically, as we know often happens with all best laid plans, he doesn't come home from work that night.  On the same night that Richard goes missing, so does Conor, a young foster child who Bernadette has secretly volunteered to Befriend For Life.  Also missing is Conor's Lifebook which Bernadette last saw on her bookshelf.  Bernadette doesn't even need to think twice about which person is most important to her as she heads over to Conor's foster mum's house to see how she can help.  As they trace Conor's last known footsteps, the tension builds as we fear for his safety and I also feared for my kindle's safety as I was gripping it so much at times.

Between each chapter there is an excerpt from Conor's Lifebook.  A book that describes all his important milestones and memories that would otherwise be lost as he moves between foster homes.  I don't know if this is something that social services actually do, but what a wonderful idea it is.  You take it for granted that your parents will happily recount stories you can't remember from your childhood, but what if your parents weren't there?  If you were in foster care and your memories were left behind when you changed families, who would remember them for you?

This book is as close to perfection as you'll ever get.  Louise Beech is such a talented wordsmith that it is astonishing to find that this is only her second novel, yet exciting to think what is still to come from this gifted author.  I have to give a special mention to the description of colours and sounds that virtually burst out of the pages, descriptions that are so vivid they are nothing like I have ever read before.  Not just colours and sounds, but all of the descriptions are so stunningly exquisite that I didn't even need to close my eyes to imagine the scene.

The Mountain in My Shoe is a breathtaking story of a child in foster care and a marriage in crisis, and how they can both ultimately save each other.  Told from several perspectives with such distinct voices, it is both heart-breaking and heart-warming.  I'll show my age a bit now, but as GCSEs now have an A* grade, this is one book that is definitely worthy of a 5* rating.

If you only read one book this year, make it this one.  

My rating:

Thursday 10 November 2016

BLOG TOUR: The Honey Trap - Mary Jane Baker

I read The Honey Trap by Mary Jane Baker a few months ago and thought it was a great book.  You can read my review here.  To celebrate the release of The Honey Trap in paperback, I am posting a Q&A with Mary Jane as part of the blog tour.

Congratulations on your fabulous book, Mary Jane!

Q: Have you always wanted to be an author? If not, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up? 

A: As a kid I always wanted to be a writer like the ones I most admired (CS Lewis and Enid Blyton), although after seeing Flight of the Navigator I briefly toyed with becoming a space explorer. The first proper story I remember writing, age 7, was called The Red Unicorn, about a tiny unicorn that could shrink and grow at will (heavily plagiarised from the Mrs Pepperpot stories!).

Q: What inspired you to start writing?

A: Good question! After a brief attempt to write a romantic novel at university (in fact a very early draft of The Honey Trap, sort of), I lost confidence in my writing for a long time and gave up altogether. I did eventually return to non-fiction writing, but it took me a while to dust off my fiction writing skills. There were two catalysts for this: first, the publication of a popular erotic novel that shall remain nameless, which convinced me I could do just as well, and secondly the discovery of the NaNoWriMo event and forums, which gave me the support I needed to get over my confidence problems.

Q: When did you realise your potential as a writer? 

A: When I first let other people read my writing and received some lovely compliments – and when I opened your acceptance email!

Q: What was the inspiration for your novel? 

A: I suppose the characters came to me first, with only a sketchy idea of the plot. I wanted to create a heroine who was realistically flawed and complex, with a wry, pithy sense of humour and a strong sense of her own worth, and a hero who was a person rather than a type, generous, funny, capable of a range of emotions and steering far clear of the alpha stereotype common in some romance. I also wanted the secondary characters to have range and not just be plot props. Once I had the characters I let them guide the plot, and was surprised where I found it going. The charity ReelKids, for example – a workshopping project for disadvantaged young people run by the hero which features heavily – didn't exist at all in my plan!

Q: What is the best advice anyone has given you about writing? 

A: “Push on into the white space” was my mantra when finishing my first draft, provided by someone on the NaNoWrMo forums. This was the advice I needed to finish - don't worry about quality, don't go back to edit and obsess. Just tell your story and worry about the tidy-up later. And remember Hemingway: all first drafts are s**t, so don't expect yours to be any different!

Q: Aside from writing, what is your favourite thing to do? 

A: I love rambling, and I'm also a crafter (knitting and crochet). I like to read, especially the classics, and (unsurprisingly) I love vintage film!

Q: What are your top ten favourite books?

A: Wuthering Heights – absolute classic, and written only four miles from my house! The one book I can read over and over and still find something new.

Catch-22 – very powerful, funny and harrowing, a masterpiece. Never known anyone able to combine humour and poignancy in their writing as seamlessly as Heller. An emotionally draining read though.

Mrs Dalloway – always get this out in the summer as an uplifting read (odd for a book about existential angst, maybe). Love the way the domestic dramas play out in the characters' heads.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy – never fails to make me laugh out loud, and love the quintessentially British tone in a science fiction setting.

Pride and Prejudice – Lizzie is a standout character in literature for me. Not sure we realise now what a brave (even foolish) thing it was to turn down proposals willy nilly in Regency times!

Vanity Fair – again, another standout character, Becky Sharp. The wry, darkly comic tone of this book and the contrast between the two heroines draw me back to it on a regular basis.

Soul Music (Discworld) – my favourite of the Terry Pratchett Discworld books. Like Hitchhiker's Guide, I love the placement of a very British sense of humour in the environment of a Tolkienesque fantasy world, and Pratchett's witty tone and tight plotting.

Jane Eyre – another locally written book I come back to a lot. As stated below, I love the equality between Jane and Rochester, and the hero's willingness to display vulnerability with her.

The Awakening – this was the book that first made me identify as a feminist I think, and consider a woman's right to make her own choices.

To Kill a Mockingbird – very powerful exploration of justice and social isolation through a child's eyes, and I love Scout as a character.

Q: What are your top three romantic books and why?

A: Jane Eyre – I love the equality between Jane and Rochester that she defiantly claims for them, despite the difference in social station and gender; the way she always stands up to him and he loves her for it.

Wuthering Heights – essentially a love story between two highly dislikeable people, but very powerful in its portrayal of that, and again, the characters of Cathy and Heathcliff have a very equal relationship.

The Hunger Games – I read this trilogy recently and very much enjoyed the portrayal of the love story between Katniss, Peeta and Gayle, the way it was coloured by their experiences and the way the two men respect her right to choose. Always love a love triangle, and I think she made the right choice in the end!

Q: What are your top three romantic movie/TV kisses and why?

A: Tim and Dawn in The Office – love the choreography of this, his thumb on her cheek, the tears, and the way we all had to wait so long for it.

Katniss and Gayle in The Hunger Games – I don't often cry over kiss scenes but when Katniss kisses what she thinks is an unconscious Gayle and he later tells her he'd have to be dead to forget it, awww!

George Bailey and Mary Hatch in It's A Wonderful Life – when they're on the phone together and can't seem to keep their hands off each other despite trying to resist, always gets my heart fluttering!

Q: If you could ride off into the sunset with a fictional character, who would you choose and why?

A: Tough one. Probably Han Solo from Star Wars, 1977 edition of course...

Excellent answers!  Han Solo - obviously!  Thank you for visiting my blog, Mary Jane, and good luck with your book.

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Wednesday 9 November 2016

BLOG TOUR: The House of Birds - Morgan McCarthy

Morgan McCarthy's THE HOUSE OF BIRDS is a beautiful and bewitching story of love, war and second chances that will be adored by readers of Louisa Young and Virginia Bailey.
Oliver has spent years trying to convince himself that he's suited to a life of money making in the city, and that he doesn't miss a childhood spent in pursuit of mystery, when he cycled around the cobbled lanes of Oxford, exploring its most intriguing corners.
When his girlfriend Kate inherits a derelict house - and a fierce family feud - she's determined to strip it, sell it and move on. For Oliver though, the house has an allure, and amongst the shelves of discarded, leather bound and gilded volumes, he discovers one that conceals a hidden diary from the 1920s.
So begins a quest: to discover the identity of the author, Sophia Louis. It is a portrait of war and marriage, isolation and longing and a story that will shape the future of the abandoned house - and of Oliver - forever.

What did I think?

I love any book with a historical feel to it so The House of Birds piqued my interest with the story being around the discovery of a hidden diary from the 1920s.  With the eyecatching peeling wallpaper on the cover, I was eager to discover what secrets would lie within.

Oliver and Kate knew each other as children, and Oliver has fond memories of peeping through a window of Kate's aunt's house and seeing beautiful birds on the wallpaper.  When they meet years later, they start a relationship that feels a little shaky when Oliver quits has job and then Kate is offered a job in New York.  Oliver is happy to stay behind as Kate has inherited her aunt's house, the very house that intrigued him as a child, so he offers to renovate the house so that Kate can sell it.

The inheritance isn't without controversy, as a part of Kate's distant family, the Calverts, believe that the house should have gone to them.  What claim could they possibly have on the house?  They are sure that a will was written and lost many years ago which would have given the house to them, but without it they have no claim.  Kate's equivalent on this side of the family is fiery Lena.  She turns up at the house with all guns blazing to confront Oliver but she doesn't realise that Oliver is falling in love with the house and its story.

Oliver is sorting through some old books one day when he stumbles across an old diary, written by Sophia Louis.  Who is this mystery lady and why is her story hidden in this house?  So Oliver and us, the dear readers, begin to unearth Sophia's story as we are transported back to the 1920s.  A time when women weren't allowed into the Bodleian library (WHAT!?!?) as they waited for the passing of the Equal Reading Rights Act.  Sophia, although married to George, makes friends with Christopher outside the Bodleian library.  At first their friendship is just that, as Christopher pretends Sophia is his sister to gain access to the library for her.  George, confined to the house and suffering from PTSD from World War I, begins to get suspicious of Sophia and starts to snoop around while she is out. Little does he know that Sophia has left little booby traps like James Bond to confirm he has been going through her belongings. As Sophia's marriage to George goes through more downs than ups, Christopher is the only one she can turn to.  Will Sophia and Christopher manage to finally be together or will George throw a deadly spanner in the works?

Sophia's story is completely spellbinding.  I found myself chivvying Oliver along to find the next instalment as I couldn't wait to find out what happens next.  The writing is so authentic that it felt as if The House of Birds was indeed written by two different authors: Morgan McCarthy writing Oliver's story and Sophia Louis writing her own.  A mesmerising read, The House of Birds is a mysterious literary treasure hunt, of which the prize is finding out about the life of Sophia and her link to this magnificent house.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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